Inspiring Creativity When You’re Not A Creative
Earlier this summer I was at a new business pitch where one of the prospective clients asked us how AbelsonTaylor keeps its creative teams inspired. I loved this question! Even though I’m an account person, I get really excited when clients show interest in our craft. Advertising is so much more than pretty pictures and catchy phrases—we solve problems, establish connections, and change behavior. That doesn’t happen overnight and it certainly isn’t easy, especially if you work in a heavily regulated industry such as healthcare.
It made the most sense for our creative director to answer the question, but I’ve since spent some time thinking about this. How would I respond if the question was geared towards me? How do I inspire creativity? My answer isn’t as succinct as our CD’s, but I find my work as an account person most successful when I follow these five rules.
- Get everyone on the same bus
Amazing things happen when we’re working towards the same goal, but we easily forget that. As the department that interacts with virtually every department, account managers have the unique opportunity to help bring everyone together and experience the power of joined forces. Make sure the team is on the same page and empower others to see that everyone’s job is to help create great work. My favorite example of this rule might seem corny, but it still gives me goosebumps. When JFK visited NASA in 1962, he introduced himself to a janitor who was mopping the floor and asked what he did. Instead of explaining he was a janitor, and obviously cleaning, he responded: “I’m helping to put a man on the moon.”
- Write creative briefs that inspire
We’ve all heard great advertising starts with a great brief. Most agencies think the trick is having the perfect template, and every couple of years they try to revamp it to no avail. New-and-improved templates are simply vehicles for new (and even more annoying) marketing clichés. I don’t want to oversimplify the art of writing a good brief—it takes a lot of practice—but remembering the audience is key. Creative briefs are meant to inspire creatives. Not clients. Write your briefs in a way that sparks their attention and gives them a problem to solve. Don’t forget, the brief is a starting point—not the solution.
- Focus on the future
I cringe every time I hear someone say, “let’s find an analog for that.” It’s one thing to use an analogy to help someone understand a complicated concept or to learn from past mistakes, but often, we’re trying to take a shortcut by repurposing previously used solutions. Make time to learn about each situation individually. Why reinvent the wheel if you don’t have to? Because it’s our job! Our job is to find new ways to solve problems. We can’t do that if we’re stuck in the past. Instead of asking “what’s been done,” focus on what hasn’t.
- Stay stimulated
Advertising has a reputation for its long hours, so when we’re not working, it’s easy to just “check out.” Definitely recharge your batteries, but be sure you find ways to stimulate yourself intellectually, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Creative brain cells are like muscles—they won’t grow without a workout, so be sure to challenge yourself. Travel. Read a new book. Learn a new skill. I guarantee you’ll be more creative and inspire more creativity when you regularly find new ways to stay stimulated. You’ll probably be happier too. After all, “life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”
- Stir the pot
I’d be lying if I said this next tip has never gotten me into trouble. It has. Not everyone likes it when you challenge the status quo, so discretion is advised. With that said, high risk comes with high reward. It’s only when you push boundaries (internal and external) that you’re able to take work to the next level. Bring your creative POV to the table through strategic feedback that takes the full picture into consideration—objectives, strategies, target insights, timelines, budgets, etc. And when you see a concept that might scare the clients, don’t simply say “they’d never buy that.” If it’s the right thing to do, stand up for it. Advocate for great ideas and help clients see the true potential.
In conclusion, the five “rules” listed above by no means apply to everyone, nor are they really rules. They’re things I do (or try to do) to help inspire creativity as an account person. Deadlines, budgets, reality—they all get in the way sometimes. The trick is to remember that everyone at an agency has the job of helping create great work. You might not be directly responsible for creative, but you are part of a team that is.